Orchestral Set No. 2
Charles Ives did not intend for his Orchestral Set No. 2 to be a follow-up to the famous first set, Three Places in New England. His notes indicate that by 1911 he'd completed the first two movements, and that the third was written in the fall of 1915. The finished grouping of these three movements wasn't assembled until 1919, whereas Three Places was put together around 1914. Ives' Orchestral Set No. 2 premiered under Morton Gould in Chicago in 1967.
The Orchestral Set No. 2 is scored for a very large orchestra and chorus, rivaling the scale of the Fourth Symphony. The first movement, entitled "An Elegy to Our Forefathers," was originally conceived as an "Overture to Stephen Foster" and undertaken around 1909. It includes quotations from such familiar Foster fare as "Old Black Joe" and "Massa's in de Cold, Cold Ground," but also snatches of African American spirituals such as "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen." Bathed in dark hues of thick, mysterious orchestral color, this movement is the most touching of Ives' forays into African American song. Conductor Leopold Stokowski attempted to point up this element of the work by asking composer Hershy Kay to add a unison chorus to this movement in 1970. While the added choral part doesn't sound out of place in this context, Ives never intended it, and this addition has to be considered spurious.
The second movement, "The Rockstrewn Hills Join in the People's Outdoor Meeting" is based on the Four Ragtime Dances of 1902; some of the same material also appears in the fourth movement of the First Piano Sonata. This piece is a full throttle, no-holds-barred send-up of ragtime rhythm; it contains some of Ives' most trenchantly dissonant writing for the strings and brass in the center section. Bells ring in the climax, consisting of a wonderfully sour rendering of "Bringing in the Sheaves" before the music quiets back down. Despite the outdoor setting indicated by the title, this is urban music -- big and ugly.
The final piece, "From Hanover Square North, at the End of a Tragic Day, the Voice of the People Again Arose" memorializes an event that occurred on a train platform in New York City on Friday, May 7, 1915. Ives records in his Memos how the atmosphere on that day was thick with apprehension at the news that a German Submarine had torpedoed the Lusitania, meaning war was imminent. As Ives waited along with a crowd at the Third Avenue "El," "In the Sweet Bye and Bye" broke out among some of the workers, and soon the whole crowd picked it up. As the train arrived, the magic remained; no one spoke, and some were still singing the tune while boarding. In Ives' score, he utilizes the large orchestral forces at his disposal and unison chorus to perfectly capture the tension and claustrophobia of this scene.
[Article taken from All Music Guide]
Following on the heels of the Ives of March celebrations that aren’t happening on GMG (where are you, Greg?), I thought I’d post this write-up about one of my favorite Ives works: Orchestral Set No. 2
. For me, the whole work feels like I’ve just entered a drug-induced dreamworld full of flickering lights and shadow lurkers. It would take someone an entire book to analyze this work, so I possibly couldn’t begin to pick apart all of the strands of music that exist in it. My favorite performance comes from Tilson Thomas conducting the Concertgebouw. Sinclair also has an excellent recording with the Malmo SO on Naxos.